Analysis of a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of adults aged 50 years and older indicated frequency of in-person social contact with friends and family independently predicted risk for subsequent depression among this population.
“One of the important matters that has not been addressed is the effect of frequency of particular modes of social contact on depression. People interact in many ways - whether meeting in person, talking on the telephone, or having written or e-mail communication, but it is unclear to what extent older adults use each mode of social contact, who the contacts are with, and whether the association between social contacts and depression varies according to mode of social contact,” Alan R. Teo, MD, MS, of the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, and colleagues wrote.
To examine associations between use of different modes of social contact (in-person, telephone, written or e-mail) with different types of people and risk for depressive symptoms, researchers analyzed data for individuals aged 50 years and older who participated in the Health and Retirement Survey between 2004 and 2010 (n = 11,065). Depressive symptoms were assessed at baseline and 2 years later via the eight-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.
As frequency of in-person contact - but not telephone or written or e-mail contact - decreased, likelihood for depressive symptoms steadily increased, according to researchers.
When controlling for demographic, clinical and social variables, individuals with in-person social contact every few months or with less children, other family and friends had a significantly higher likelihood of clinically significant depressive symptoms 2 years later (11.5%) compared with those who had in-person contact once or twice per month (8.1%; P < .001) or once or twice per week (7.3%; P < .001).
Some of the effects of social contact on depressive symptoms were moderated by older age, interpersonal conflict and depression at baseline, according to researchers.
“In summary, the findings in a large, nationally representative sample of Americans aged 50 and older suggest that more-frequent in-person social contact predicts lower risk of depressive symptoms 2 years later, and of different social relationships, in-person contact with one’s friends is specifically associated with lower risk of depression. Clinicians and researchers should consider by what means and with whom people have social contact when considering promotion of social support for older adults at risk of depression,” the researchers concluded.
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